The first day of the final 2019 preseason test for World Superbike took place in Phillip Island today, just a handful of days before the championship heads out on track for the first round of the season at the Australian circuit next weekend.
The times were topped by Alvaro Bautista in both sessions, the Aruba.it Ducati rider claiming he had never had a better bike at Phillip Island than the Panigale V4R he piloted today. Bautista was not only impressive in the one lap speed, but also in the longer “race” pace, setting nearly three times as many laps in the 1’30s as four-time champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). Of course, it is important to view these statistics with a degree of scepticism, since we don’t know which tyres were used to set the times, but either way the early signs for the 2006 125cc World Champion are positive for next weekend.
Bautista was making a lot of his lap time in the final sector of the lap, where the Ducati’s RPM advantage is most noticeable (the V4R currently has 1750 revs more than the new Kawasaki ZX-10RR), and where the Panigale’s wings can make the most difference, helping keep the front end down on the exit of the fourth-gear final corner. The advantage the Spaniard has in this part of the lap could prove crucial come the end of the races on Saturday and Sunday.
Another reason for hesitation when it comes to Bautista’s Monday performance is Jonathan Rea’s crash in the morning. Combined with the increased wind in the afternoon, and the curtailment of the reigning champion’s morning running meant we did not get to see the full potential of the Northern Irishman today.
In between Bautista and Rea in the morning, was Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team), who continued his positive 2019 preseason. At the Portimao test a few weeks ago, Lowes was the only rider who looked capable of challenging Rea and the Kawasaki, and whilst Bautista seems to have joined the fray, Lowes is still in the mix. He dropped to fifth in the afternoon, 0.649 seconds shy of Bautista’s table-topping time in the second session, but nonetheless the Englishman looks strong at the moment.
Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was the second-fastest Yamaha in the morning, fourth overall, as he continues to make his adaptation to the R1. Behind Melandri was another duo of YZF-R1s, with Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) in fifth and sixth respectively.
Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was seventh in the morning, the last rider within a second of Bautista, but it was in the afternoon that the Brit impressed the most aboard the S1000RR, finishing the second session as the second-fastest rider and just 0.151s away from Bautista. It is still early days with this new BMW project, but already the package is looking competitive in the hands of the 2013 WorldSBK Champion.
Sykes improved his time by four tenths in the afternoon, compared to the morning, and it was a similar case for Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who dropped his time by 0.487 seconds to finish third in the second session, in front of his teammate, Rea.
The second BMW of Markus Reiterberger was ninth in the morning as the final Superstock 1000 FIM Cup champion continues to adapt himself back to the Superbike-spec machinery. The German improved his time by three tenths in the afternoon, despite dropping to tenth.
Toprak Razgatlioglu saw a four-tenth improvement from morning to afternoon on the Turkish Puccetti Racing Kawasaki rider, as he moved from tenth to eighth.
Whilst one Ducati was dominating, four tenths clear of the field at the top of the standings in the morning, and a tenth clear in the afternoon, the other Panigale V4Rs struggled to match the pace set by Bautista.
The second-fastest Ducati in the morning was Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), in fifteenth, 2.461 seconds off his teammate, whilst Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) was sixteenth, 2.610 seconds off and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing Team) was seventeenth, 3.100 off. Things improved for Davies and Laverty in the afternoon, as they wound up twelfth and thirteenth, respectively, but they were still over a second shy of Bautista.
We finally got to see the new, full factory Moriwaki Althea Hondas out on track today, too, after they conducted their winter testing privately in Japan. Neither Leon Camier nor Ryuichi Kiyonari could manage to break into the top ten, or within one second of Bautista in either session, but the project is still in its early days.
The second and final day of the Phillip Island WorldSBK test will get underway at 22:00 GMT, tonight (18/02/2019).
Featured image courtesy of Ducati Media